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The Carolina Panthers should have fired Dave Gettleman sooner

A lot of turmoil in the Panthers front office could have been avoided if Jerry Richardson had made a crucial decision just a few months earlier than he did.

Ed. Note - This week, all of SB Nation’s NFL sites are answering the question ‘Now that the season has begun to play out, what would your team do today if they could go back and change one move they made in the offseason?’. The following is my answer to said question. -BS

If the Carolina Panthers are hiding a time machine — one that won’t allow them to travel to February 1, 2004 or February 7, 2016 — then they should turn the dial to March 1, 2017 and fire Dave Gettleman.

Why March 1, you ask? Well, that’s two days before the 2017 NFL Draft Combine, but it’s also a time when the Panthers had an Assistant General Manager who could have taken over following Gettleman’s departure.

Instead, the Panthers fired Gettleman on July 17, two months after Beane was hired to fill the vacant General Manager position in Buffalo. This decision resulted in Marty Hurney — the much maligned former GM that Gettleman was hired to replace — being brought back as an interim replacement. Oh, and I almost forgot, July 17 was also one week before the Panthers left Charlotte for training camp at Wofford College in Spartanburg, SC — you know, the absolute best time to fire a GM.

I know the first question you’re thinking in your head - why fire Gettleman at all? The Panthers have won the NFC South three of the last four years since Gettleman arrived in January 2013, including an amazing 15-1 record and run to the Super Bowl in 2015. Based on results, Gettleman appeared to be doing a fine job.

But for Panthers owner Jerry Richardson, the end doesn’t always justify the means.

In a column for SB Nation following Gettleman’s departure, former Panthers offensive lineman Geoff Schwartz wrote the following (emphasis mine):

My read on Gettleman is that he’s an old school guy. He doesn’t value loyalty; he values wins. That doesn’t always vibe with ownership in Charlotte.

The common theory for Gettleman’s exit — and all we have are theories because Richardson has been notoriously silent on his reasoning for the decision — is that folks inside the organization grew tired of Gettleman’s poor ‘bedside manner’ when dealing with pending free agents during contract negotiations. Panthers fans saw the departures of Jordan Gross, DeAngelo Williams, Steve Smith and Josh Norman under Gettleman’s watch, and were preparing for the potential exits of Thomas Davis and Greg Olsen in the near future. Apparently those last two players were the final straw for Richardson, and he decided to choose loyalty over winning by giving Gettleman the axe.

Speaking of loyalty, Brandon Beane had been a part of the Panthers’ family since he was an intern in 1998, according to an article written by Joe Person of the Charlotte Observer when Beane left for Buffalo:

He went to UNC-Wilmington with the idea of going into education. But before becoming Mr. Beane, high school coach and teacher, Beane took an internship with the Panthers in 1998 and never left – until Tuesday.

Beane’s training camp internship in the public relations department led to a full-time position in football operations, where Beane’s duties included picking players up at the airport, setting up travel arrangements and anything asked of him.

Former GM Marty Hurney promoted Beane to football operations director in 2008. Four years later, Beane took over as interim GM for the final 10 games after Hurney resigned.

The Panthers went 6-4 while Beane held the post. More important than the record, Beane showed a knack for evaluating talent by plucking edge rusher Mario Addison from Washington’s practice squad and signing kicker Graham Gano.

Beane wasn’t just a typical assistant. He had risen through the ranks since taking an internship and was supposed to be the next man in line for the job. When Hurney was fired in 2012, Beane even proved that he could handle the duties of a General Manager and was one of the candidates the organization interviewed to replace Hurney.

But Jerry Richardson hired Dave Gettleman instead. Beane remained with the organization as the Assistant GM, and even took the opportunity to hone his scouting abilities under Gettleman’s tutelage.

Beane had experience managing the salary cap, but hadn’t done a ton of scouting early in his career. But he started going on the road to scout college games when he was interim GM, a practice he continued after Gettleman was hired (Beane was the only in-house candidate to interview).

Beane further honed his scouting chops under Gettleman, whose affinity for film-study is as well known as his love of minivans and bagels.

Gettleman and Beane would watch video of every play from every Panthers game, as well as most of the plays of free agents Carolina was considering. Gettleman says Beane was an eager film critic.

- Joe Person, Charlotte Observer

So, on March 1, 2017 Jerry Richardson had an Assistant General Manager ready for a full-time GM gig who had learned scouting and film study from a notorious ‘film junkie’ who just so happened to be the guy he wanted to replace. Richardson also had an Assistant GM who had been with the Panthers for almost two decades, and who likely had a firm grasp of the family-oriented culture that the he values so highly.

Which brings me back to my original point. Why wait? If you’re the owner of an NFL team, you probably know when your biggest stars are up for contract renewals. You might not know the finer details of the fourth string quarterback on your roster, but you should know when two of your biggest marketable names are pending free agents. You also know that your general manager has a history of being a tough negotiator who doesn’t factor loyalty into his equation, and you know you have a hotshot ‘GM of the future’ as his assistant.

If you know all these things, doesn’t it make sense to just fire the guy and get it over with? You already have his replacement sitting there in the meeting room. It’s March 1, and the NFL Combine is in two days. Wouldn’t the best decision be — if you know you’re getting tired of hearing complaints about your GM’s negotiating style — to make the change now and avoid a headache down the road? You can promote your ‘GM of the future’ to take over, and he has two days to get to Indianapolis for the combine. He can then adequately prepare for the NFL Draft, and you don’t skip too many beats in the process.

This begs the question: Why in the hell is Brandon Beane not the General Manager of the Carolina Panthers?

I should note that this is not an argument that Dave Gettleman should have been fired. That’s a different debate for another day. My concern is (and has always been) the timing of it all. Jerry Richardson can hire and fire whomever he wants. That’s one of the perks of being an owner of a sports franchise. It just seems that he could have made this decision a lot sooner to avoid the chaos that follows when you throw an interim guy into the flames a week before training camp begins.

What chaos, you might ask? Oh, just the part where we’ve had two kickers and four quarterbacks on the roster (at the same time) at various points of the season while struggling to find enough guys to fill voids at cornerback and safety. All that noise could have potentially been avoided if Richardson made his decision a few months sooner. The Panthers wouldn’t currently be searching for a GM, and Panthers fans wouldn’t be living in constant fear that the guy who handed out long-term contracts to favored veterans like candy on Halloween will be shedding the interim tag on any given day.

With Brandon Beane at the helm, the Panthers would be set for the future with a good GM who knows the organization and is fully capable of taking over the reins. It’s honestly a shame that they let him get away, especially when they could have avoided it with better timing from the owner.

If the Panthers are hiding that time machine in a back room closet somewhere in the depths of Bank of America Stadium, now would be a good time to dig it out, dust if off, set the dials to March 1, and fix the turmoil that is currently going on in the front office.

Oh, and while you’re at it, send me some of those lotto numbers too.